Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quote: Discrimination by Any Name is Wrong

Quote of the day (from a NYTimes editorial, here):

The freedom to exercise one’s religion is not under assault in Indiana, or anywhere else in the country. Religious people — including Christians, who continue to make up the majority of Americans — may worship however they wish and say whatever they like.

But religion should not be allowed to serve as a cover for discrimination in the public sphere. In the past, racial discrimination was also justified by religious beliefs, yet businesses may not refuse service to customers because of their race. Such behavior should be no more tolerable when it is based on sexual orientation.

Gratitude: Opportunities To Open the Mind

Karen Prior
Today, I am thankful for:

Open minds and lessons that open them.

A friend who teaches at Liberty University (and is an especially good author; her latest book, Fierce Convictions, is here) invited me to sit in on one of her upcoming classes today, after she wrote, "Had such a fantastic class discussion in Christian Literature today on worldview, modernism, and postmodernism. Teaching feeds my soul."

That stirred my interest and I asked if I could attend a class, just to get the feel.

Karen Prior is bright, articulate, thoughtful, kind and as tough as she has to be. Teaching at Liberty carries baggage because of the widely held view that everybody there is Jerry Falwell. They are not. I know a number of them. Hell, Jerry Falwell was not Jerry Falwell. I knew him slightly and found him to be a kindly, courtly, quick witted, funny, courteous soul in person, not the firebrand we saw on television, though his views that are counter to all I stand for were real.

I'm sure Karen faces a kind of subtle discrimination wherever she goes because of the ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Liberty brand and that is sad because the people who make assumptions about her miss the real person, one who is of considerable value and intellect. So, I look forward to the class, to the discussion and the opportunity to hear what I don't usually. That is a good thing.

Oh, and in a couple of weeks, I get to talk to a journalism class from Washington and Lee during lunch at Norah's Cafe (at the Taubman). That will be stimulating, as well in a wholly different way. Education is a wondrous thing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Indiana Law Threatens Virginia

(UPDATE: As I have discovered since posting this this a.m., Marshall's bill was voted down by the House, but you can bet your sweet ass it will be back. These religious fanatics simply don't quit. Next time, there may be a Republican governor, god forbid.)

Looks like Indiana's anti-gay law, disguised as "religious freedom" is trying to make its way into the Virginia law books. Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County, who has been in the Virginia House since 1991, has earned a reputation of being strongly anti-gay and the bill is his. (Story here and here.)

It has no chance at this point of becoming law, principally because our governor, Terry McAuliffe, would surely veto it post-haste and my guess is it would not pass the Senate, in any case. Not that the senate has a progressive bone in its body, but it's not generally crazy, either.

The House is a different breed of cat, though. Many of these knuckle-draggers might well join their far right brothers in the Middle East in the belief that gays should be jailed or killed and their evangelical Christian fervor tells them homosexuality is an evil that must be erased. What must be erased is their position in the General Assembly. They need to go home and pray for forgiveness.

(Photo: www.gaystarnews.com)

Hockey Helmets: Alarming Failure Rate, VT Research Finds

Tech professor Stefan Duma (center) and his hockey helmet research team.
I think we all agree that a lot of important research goes on at Virginia Tech and its satellites (notably the VTC College of Medicine and Research Institute), but little is more important than protecting the health and safety of young people. Tech's research into the effectiveness of football helmets has, in recent years, earned it quite a bit of respect and helped the industry to affect positive changes.

Now, Tech has turned its research eye toward hockey helmets. Those are not quite as pervasive in our area as the football headgear, but nationally, quite a few children and young adults wear them and depend on them in a rough game.

Tech has discovered, in three years of testing, that there are no great hockey helmets out there, that the best of them rate three of five stars. Suppose your airline pilot passed his flight test with a 60 percent grade average or your surgeon was three of five at med school. How much would that rankle you?

I'm not sure how the hockey helmet manufacturers will react to the research, but my guess is that if they are to survive, they'll be in the lab today working their asses off to improve their helmets' safety.

Here's some of the press release on the new tests that I got in my e-mail today:

Tech "purchased 32 new models of hockey helmets, with two copies of each unit purchased for repetitive testing. ...Each of the helmets was tested in four directions at three energy levels and re-tested, for a total of 48 tests per helmet model. The entire evaluation process included more than 2,000 impact tests. Tests were carried out on an ice rink and inside a Virginia Tech laboratory featuring equipment designed to impact helmets. ...

"Despite the low ratings of the helmets included in the tests – from such manufacturers as Warrior, Reebok, Bauer CCM, and Eaton, with six helmets earning at 2 stars, 16 helmets rating 1 star, and nine with zero stars – [Tech researchers say they want their] findings to be used as a way to help, not hurt, hockey."

Hockey, Tech's researchers say, "has the highest rate of concussion of all sports [especially for female players]. Football has more, but more people play football ... They have a range of bodily injuries, but we are focused on brain injuries and reducing the risk of concussion."

GOP vs. EPA: A Real Irony (Elvis, Too)

Nixon creating EPA with executive order 1970.
I find it frustratingly interesting that the Republican congress has set its sites on killing the EPA ... or at least diminishing to to the point of being useless.

The EPA is a Republican program from back in the days when the GOP had a conscience, a sense of positive direction, and some few remaining ethics. It had not yet been completely bought by the monied interests in 1970 when Richard Nixon proposed the idea and then signed an executive order establishing the EPA.

Likewise, a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, signed--without a lot of bitching and moaning--the Air Pollution Control Act in 1955. It became the Clean Air Act in 1963 (JFK, shortly before his death), and was deeply amended in a positive way by Nixon in 1970, when enforcement teeth were inserted. Nixon also signed the monumental Clean Water Act in 1972 (the year of the Watergate break-in; Watergate/Water Act, get it? Heh, heh, heh ...).

Remember that Nixon was not beloved, that he had a great deal of trouble working with a Congress that was ruled by Democrats, that he resigned in shame, that his own party turned against him (our own Republican Congressman Caldwell Butler pretty much pushed him over the edge), but they still got things done. Important things.

The Congress Obama has worked with, that Clinton worked with and even the one Bush II faced have been completely ineffective except in saying "no," when they were not saying "hell, no!" The fact is that Congress can work in the face of any president if it chooses to.

They can even get things done when the president is appointing Elivs Presley chief deputy for drug enforcement:

(Photo EPA signing: pdxretro.com; Elivs www.volkskrant.nl)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Roaring Run: A Rare, Clear Perspective

One of the several scenic--and solid--bridges across the creek.
Roaring Run Furnace in Botetourt County (near Eagle Rock) is the rarest of Western Virginia mountain hikes: a relatively easy, short walk (.6 miles) with a superior payoff. Not only is the creek itself one of the truly gorgeous ones in the region, but it leads to a waterfall that is never less than spectacular. And it only takes about an hour to hike it all.

Compare that, for example, to Reed Mountain, a steep, long hike with no view at either end. It is what my mama would have called "drudgery."

This is the Roaring Run Furnace, where charcoal was once made.
My buddy Janeson and I walked the path today and with the foliage still in the late stages of winter/early spring, there was much to see. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing the waterfall from so far away as we did today. Beautiful hike, lovely day. Here's some of what it looked like.
Ice had not fully melted along the creek.
Here's a bit more ice.
This is Janeson at what becomes a sliding rock in summer.
The creek is simply beautiful all the way up the trail.
Roaring Run is stocked trout water.
You won't get this view in summer.
The first glimpse of the falls; normally obscured by leaves.
This is the payoff.
This is me mugging at the payoff.

Why Evangelical Christians Are So Disrespected

This is an evangelical as he was meant to be.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof this morning (here) cites a Human Rights Campaign poll from last year that concluded, "Americans approved more of gays and lesbians (53 percent) than of evangelical Christians (42 percent)." Though I suspected right-wing Christians were having a difficult time finding respect outside their own churches, it never occurred to me that the divide was a chasm.

A lot of us will say the lack of respect has been earned the hard way, by hating nearly everybody who is different from them and by voting into office morons (Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, for example) who seek to form a theocracy that would strip women and the poor (especially poor of color) of their rights, ruin the environment, make the filthy rich dirtier, stay constantly at war, and on and on. They are anethma to people like me of the liberal persuasion.

But they aren't all that way, of course. There are wonderful examples of evangelicals who do good work quietly (Kristof gives one in some detail), who don't pound us on the head with the misguided Biblical entreaty to "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), the passage that basically created the evangelicals.

I know evangelical Christians who are solid citizens, who care about people who don't believe as they do and whose deeds are unquestionably truly Christian in the best sense. I don't know a lot of them, but I know some. And that, likely, is part of the problem. The good guys keep their traps shut and their heads down. The Falwells (whom I liked personally on a one-one basis), Robertsons and other horrid examples get all the air time.

Polls tell us that "religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity and volunteer more hours, than the nonreligious," according to Kristof. "In the United States and abroad, the safety net of soup kitchens, food pantries and women’s shelters depends heavily on religious donations and volunteers." In Roanoke, there is the Rescue Mission and its wondrous Joy Johnston, which feeds and shelters the homeless and the abused, some of whom might otherwise face immediate death. The only requirement for care is to worship with those at the Mission, hardly a stretch when you're hungry and afraid.

Still, as a society we prefer the people who were once at the bottom of the bad apple barrel (but have since, fortunately, become respected citizens) to the evangelicals. My thought here is that the bad apples (to continue a bad metaphor) need to look at the good apples and see what's different. The good apples are acting like respectable and respectful human beings, is what I suspect they'd find.

(Photo: madmikesamerica.com)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Friend Request Across the Years

Susanna is in the center at her graduation (that's me in the bottom photo, right).
Sometimes Facebook just knocks my shoes in the creek. Tonight, I got a Friend request from Susanna Person Barton, whom I thought I did not know. The name didn't sound familiar and I almost dismissed the request because a lot of young women Friend old men for reasons that become obvious after a little while.

Anyhow, I took a couple of minutes to look at Susanna's home page and found a former co-worker whom I absolutely adored when she worked with the crew and me at the Blue Ridge Business Journal 20 years ago. She's been married for 20 years now and has a couple of sparkling children.

She posted the following today (with the photo above):

"In the spirit of Lent and women's college mojo, I treasure Dan Smith, former editor of the Blue Ridge Regional Business Journal in Roanoke VA circa 1994. I interned with him my senior year [at Hollins University] doing research for the Book of Lists (that's him at the far right of the bottom left group picture).

"He surprised me by coming to my Hollins graduation and taking precious pictures of the day and sending me copies in color, black and white and even poster size as a 'going away present.' I was so shocked and thankful because I already felt so eternally grateful to him for sharing his journalism expertise. For a gal who had just lost a mom and on that very day a grandmother, his gift of capturing graduation moments was more valuable than I can articulate."

What I got from Susanna, and from so many kids who worked with us over the years, was far, far more than she/they ever got from me. And this request for friendship online--in addition to the real and lasting one--means a lot to me. You're a jewel, Susanna.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Gratitude: My Friend Photoshop

The edited photo, color saturated. (Click on each of the three photos for a larger, more detailed view.)
PhotoShop is a program that, like digital photography itself, has made me a far better photographer than I was before it came along. There is still a great deal more to learn--probably exponentially more--than I know, but I have fun wherever I am on this learning curve. It's like tennis in that respect: I can enjoy playing no matter how good/bad I am.

This is the original shot, unedited.
The photos of the cabin here were taken yesterday out near Carvins Cove, on the way home from a kayak run, using a small point and shoot Exilm camera. Nothing fancy about the camera. It is more convenient than the rigs I carry around for the hard stuff and it takes presentable images. PhotoShop provides what you see, with a little effort ... and really, not much.

I have put together a few PhotoShop classes--taught by people who know their stuff--and it always amazed me how the teachers know a lot, but the students always know things the teachers don't. It has been a group learning process, in my experience.
This is the same photo as a watercolor painting.

Finally, a Sensible Medicare Bill?

Congress is working at refining Medicare, and the latest effort by it and the president looks like it will become good law. It changes the way physicians are paid from one based upon volume to a basis of quality care, which makes huge sense.

The NYTimes reports today (here) that "Marilyn Moon, a health economist and former trustee of the Medicare program, said the vote Thursday had far-reaching implications. 'If doctors respond to the incentives in this bill, they will have to change the way they do business. Now doctors get paid more if they do more. In the future, they will be paid more if they do it better — and may be paid more for doing less.”

"Better" often means they clear up a problem that will not reoccur. "More" most often means "cover your ass with unnecessary and extremely expensive tests." I've experienced both. I prefer "better."

This makes makes so much sense that we have to ask a simple question: What took you so long?

(Photo: ehrinsights.srssoft.com)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Photos: Opening Day on the Cove

Janeson chases a flock of water birds.
After a dry spell, the water is quite high.
The temperature eased up to about 75 in Roanoke today, so I guessed it was time to take out the kayaks for a shakedown run at Carvins Cove near Roanoke. Proved to be an inspired decision.

It was simply beautiful out there: the water was high and choppy because of wind; the water was chilly, but the air was warm; birds flocked and followed my pal Janeson and me all over the lake.

Could not have been a better March day for a paddle. These little runs do more for the spirit than a heck of a lot else, which is why, I suppose, so many of us are addicted to them. Here's some more of what we saw today.

Janeson wore jeans, and they got wet.
Pampa didn't wear jeans, but he got wet, too.
Here's Pampa the paddle man, paddling away from Tinker Mountain.
Looking around the cove: There's awe in that glance.
Janeson paddling home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Homeschooled Kids: Let Them Play!

Homeschoolers even have conventions.
Having a governor who is a member of the Democratic Party continues to keep Virginia's government from so thoroughly embarrassing itself as to be considered Mississippi or Kansas wannabees.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whom conservatives love to hate in the same way they hate Barack Obama, is in the process of preparing vetoes for some truly awful legislation, almost totally the responsibility of the House and Senate majorities of the Republican Party.

One of his vetoes (which would keep homeschooled kids out of public school activities), however, is wrong-headed and I don't think I will ever convince my more liberal pals of that because they see "homeschool" and think of nothing but the out-of-control Christian right. Homeschooled kids come in all political stripes these days and they are often better educated than their public school counterparts.

Those who want them banned from limited public school participation would never consider banning me from using the library because I prefer to buy the books I read.

Homeschool parents pay full taxes and get no exemption for schooling their children at home, but these kids are not allowed to participate in public school extracurricular activities, which is a sham and a shame. Their omission is good for nobody. It deprives them of the activities, which round out students; keeps the public school students from exposure to alternative students of this type; and keeps society from getting a student who is better educated overall. Where's the benefit?

Most extracurricular activities come with fees, so it's not about the money. It is about bigotry and it angers me a great deal. My side--the liberal side--is so smug about conservatives being bigots that we often forget we have our own issues with it, especially when it comes to tolerating conservative religion, which is how home schooling became a large franchise in Virginia. Those familiar with homeschooling these days, however, understand that there is much, much more to it than religious education.

For those who harp on the fact that homeschool parents make the choice, knowing what it means, I say it doesn't have to mean what it has meant, especially if we are a good and generous people, one looking out for all the children and caring about all the people.

Let them play, dammit! We all benefit.

(Photo: homeschoolerontheedge.crookers.com)

Throwback Wednesday, Too: 20 Years and 20 Pounds Ago

This is your favorite editr at Camp Alta Mons about 20 years ago, posing at a barn that no longer exists. Alta Mons has always been one of my favorite hiking spots and judging from the foilage in this photo, the time of year would be early to mid-spring.

The editr was not only 20 years younger (at about 45 or so), but also about 20 pounds thinner (about 180). I was a little shorter, too, at 5-9 3/4. My knee replacement two years ago put me up to 5-10 1/4, which I round off to 6-feet-2. I would also have been recently sober at the time of this shot, which might account for the smile.

Throwback Wednesday: Remembering Moon

This is my friend Moon (Donna Rose Stewart) visiting me in my relatively new home of Roanoke about 1975. I'd taken a job at the Roanoke Times as a sports writer and moved my family up here. My wife and I split and Moon came up for a visit.

This photo was taken on the footbridge over the Cowpasture River in Bath County, which was erased in the flood of 1985. We were probably camping up there, though I don't recall specifically.

We'd been close friends for a good long time. Moon was and remains bright, sensitive, kind, creative and full of energy. At the time this photo was taken, she probably weighed 100 pounds but taught aerobics, could do century (100 miles) bike rides and was a body builder. She was also a virtuoso piano player and wonderful singer.

Moon got her nickname from me because she was always so other-worldly in so many ways. She dabbled in stuff like runes, astrology (she was good), aura balancing, eating only uncooked veggies ... and, well, you get the idea. A woman with her own band to follow.

I keep in touch with her and it is always good to get a message on the Internet from her, though I don't get to hear that lovely voice much any more. I miss Moon sometimes.

Sentence of the Day: What?

Sentence of the Day:

The institute will be a cohort-based professional development program that transitions undergraduate students into workplace-ready professionals who know how to problem solve with a "sustainability lens" and communicate effectively.

This horror of "effective communication" announces the Virginia Tech Sustainability Institute and one of my old PR buddies wrote it. I won't give you her name because my guess is that she wrote an initial sentence and the good people of the Sustainability Institute altered it over and over until it was almost completely filled with impenetrable jargon.

Not a good lesson in how to communicate effectively, guys.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Refuting Ted Cruz: Point by Point

Cruz: Just kidding, right? No.
Ted Cruz, the chief nutjobbie of the Republican Party and the first man out of the box as a presidential candidate today, made a lot of his numbskull pronouncements about the economy with his announcement. Money Magazine, which is hardly liberal, took the opportunity to refute them. Here's what Money says, in brief.

Cruz says the U.S. has a "job problem," but the truth is we've just had the best jobs year since 1999 and the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, the best since 2008.
The candidate says Americans are "dropping out of the workforce." Yep. They're retiring. And the 77 million Baby Boomers will continue to do so for a few years. The Boomers are leaving and jobs are being created. "Dropping out"? Yeh, after a fashion.

Cruz wants a flat tax and he wants to kill the IRS. The flat tax would be yet another Republican assault on the poor, who pay a smaller percentage of taxes in most cases, and without the IRS, there is some question how Cruz would collect the taxes (from the poor or anybody else).

Cruz says inequality is rising and, yes again, that's likely true. But how'd that happen? Money says, "The wealthy have benefited from a six-year rise in the stock market, while the working class has barely seen any increase in household income since 1955." Wages are growing slowly, costs are rising and the rich are getting a hell of a lot richer. Republican policies are primarily responsible for the gap.

Cruz wants to build an "energy economy." Sure, let's build the XL pipeline, drill more offshore, rely heavily on coal and stay right where we are. Carbon energy has seen its day. If he wants to build the energy economy, let's talk about alternate forms.

He wants to audit the fed, which is audited twice a year. Simple matter of intimidation at a time when the dollar is pretty dang solid.

Gratitude: Dealing With DMV Is Rare

DMV Now? Yeh, right.
Today, I am grateful for:

The simple fact that I don't have to deal with the Division of Motor Vehicles any more often than I do. DMV is the very definition of unwieldy bureaucracy. It is an agency the workers don't understand, whose rules and regulations don't always make sense and where an explanation is most often insufficient when it isn't simply wrong.

I have had the occasion in the past year to have to call (literally) upon the DMV for several matters of the utmost importance to me and I have found the workers to be uncaring and uninformed. The regulations are so complex and often so totally without any logic that they are difficult--at best--to follow. The website that I visited this morning crashed twice and had my primary car listed as a car owned by a friend, one I've never even sat in (I co-signed for it). I could not call up either my car or my truck.

So I am left to call DMV--oh, god, relieve me--or visit and try to figure out how that unspeakable customer numbering system works and why, when the waiting room is full, there are only five people at the windows, while another five to seven wander around behind them.

Thank you god, or whoever is in charge of DMV interaction, for not making us have to deal with this agency more often than we do.

Photos: Here Comes Spring!

A walk in the damp, sunlit woods yesterday revealed the first real signs of spring: buds a-poppin'. They were everywhere and in a wild, electric variety of colors. We had to look closely to find most of them, but they are there and in about a week, they'll be a lot more evident, especially if the sun continues to shine. There's plenty of water to make them bright. Here's some of what we saw.

Photo: What is that Footprint?

Yesterday, this was the puzzle. What kind of animal would produce this palm-sized print that roughly resembles a horse shoe. Not a deer. Not anything with a paw. Hmmm.

So, a little further down the trail, this came up:

Problem solved. The top photo is the back part of a boot. The lower pix is the rest of the boot.

Here is a pair of deer prints near the boot print, just for comparison:

OK, so the hike was not one of high adventure. We takes our pleasures where we finds them.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Recommended: 'Like Sunday, Like Rain'

I don't want to get involved in a full-blown movie review here because it's gorgeous outside, supper's on the stove and, well, I have other things that outrank this. But in just a minute or two, let me strongly recommend the charming movie "Like Sunday, Like Rain," playing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke.

This one stars a couple of people I don't know (but I'm sure we'll see in the future), Leighton Meester and young Julian Shatkin as a down and out nanny and a 12-year-old prodigy, the son of a very wealthy mother who is mostly absent. It is, at the most basic, a love story (without all the romantic complications) and a sweet tale of two people finding something special when their worlds aren't.

Simple, lovely story, beautifully told.

Give College Basketball Back to the Colleges

Kentucky's John Calipari makes a living with freshmen.
(Update: Here is a NYTimes article that updates all this, asking why Calipari is being honored by UMass, the school where he first had wins vacated for cheating.)

 "I'm very much in favor of high school kids going pro. I had six young men commit to me out of high school that didn't go to college, that went to the pros. I'm very much for that because they didn't want college. They wanted to go to the NBA. And if they go to the [NBA Development League], that's fine with them. But the six-, seven-month education, online classes second semester. I don't know what that does for a young person." --Louisville basketball coach Rick Petino.

The rule now disallows competition in U.S. professional basketball until kids are 19, meaning that if they're going to play at an advanced level for a year before going to the NBA (or the NBA Developmental League), they have to enter college for a spell, usually a portion of a freshman year. Many of these boys have little interest in formal education and actually begin the last portion of their freshman year taking online courses. They leave school as soon as the basketball season is over.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari, whose team is undefeated this year and a heavy favorite to win the NCAA title, has made a living with extraordinarily talented teenagers who have no more interest in college than they would in NASCAR. They use Kentucky to get to the NBA and Kentucky uses them to generate millions of dollars.

Petino suggests in an ESPN story today (here), "... if a kid doesn't want to go to college, let him go to the pros. Let him go into the [D-League]. And if someone does want to go to college, let them go. We're still going to have great basketball teams."

Kentucky's Calipari tells the world he has a 100 percent graduation rate (for seniors entering their senior year), which is admirable, but that doesn't tell the story of the program's ability to graduate its athletes. If money, and not a college education, is the goal, then opting for the NBA is certainly more lucrative--if the kid makes a team. First round draft picks this year will earn a minimum of $1.8 million over a two-year contract, 33 percent more than an engineering major could expect in a lifetime, according to Glenn Logan of the Kentucky site aseaofblue.com, which can be pretty defensive about this issue. Even a player overseas makes a lot of money by recent college grad standards, though the career is certainly short.
Tom Izzo, the successful Michigan State coach who rarely relies on freshmen, suggests a study would be helpful: "We have not researched where a large majority of these guys that come out early [are]. ... Some day, 10 years from now, there's going to be a study of how many kids came out and ended up on the streets. That's the crime of this whole thing."

The NBA is considering raising the minimum age to 20. I believe Petino is right: drop the age and let the the most talented players go to the NBA out of high school. The college game won't suffer. In fact, it will be great to have college teams--and not pro teams like Kentucky's--playing for titles again. And the kids? I don't think they won't miss the seven months of college that they don't want, aren't prepared for and will never appreciate.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Photo Essay: First Hike of the Spring

Sometimes a rock is as soft as a cloud and the sun feels like delicate fingers.
Interesting message.
Today presented the opportunity for the first hike of the spring (on the first full day of spring) and Mill Mountain was the destination. This is a hike in the heart of the city that is about a mile and a half of vertical climb and this early, it's tiring. Is for me, anyway.

My buddy Janeson and I climbed the steep trail in about an hour and descended in about 30 minutes or so, taking time at the top to visit with a whole gaggle of people who filled the small parking lot and created quite a traffic jam.

This was breakout from cabin fever at its very best: bright, sunny day, about 69 degrees, light breeze, happy faces and the wondrous feeling that maybe spring really is here.

This is some of what we saw.

(Pictures of me by Janeson Keeley. I shot the sheriff and the other photos.)

This little guy was plum tuckered out.
The view of Roanoke you know and love (a little more colorful than you remember, perhaps).
A Roanoke couple photographs some Asian visitors.
Janeson said this was a "bear pottie."
For a closer view ...
Janeson lets the sun shine in.
Color is creeping in to the woods.
This Spanish woman photos her buddies.
I like this shot of Janeson's sharp jawline.
Pampa at the star in black and white.
Downhill hikes are tough on shoe inserts.